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In the middle of the ford:


The Italian communist
party in the mid1980s
a
Philip Daniels
a
Lecturer in Politics , University of
Newcastle upon Tyne
Published online: 12 Nov 2007.

To cite this article: Philip Daniels (1985) In the middle of the ford: The
Italian communist party in the mid1980s , Journal of Communist Studies, 1:2,
194-207, DOI: 10.1080/13523278508414769

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13523278508414769

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'In the Middle of the Ford'*:
The Italian Communist Party in
the mid-1980s
Philip Daniels

The unexpected death of Enrico Berlinguer, the general secretary of the


Partito Comunista ltahano (PCI), during the campaign for elections to the
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European Parliament in June 1984, sparked off the inevitable debate about
his likely successor and about whether Berlinguer's departure would mark a
turning point in the party's strategic line. In the event the person chosen on
26 June 1984 to be the party's new general secretary was Alessandro Natta.
A man who had held various senior posts in the party and who was closely
associated with Berlinguer's political line, he was expected to provide basic
continuity in the party's strategy. Natta took over the helm of the western
world's largest communist party in terms of both membership and electoral
support. Yet, for all its successes during the 1970s (its electoral advances,
increased role in sub-national government, growth in membership and
greater legitimacy)1 the party was confronted by considerable difficulties at
the time of Berlinguer's death. These related in particular to the strategic
and tactical choices designed to bring about the party's transition from a
permanent opposition role to one in national government. In the pages
which follow, the evolution of party strategy since the early 1970s is traced,
focusing on the experience of the period of 'national solidarity' govern-
ments; there then follows an examination of recent party changes and
adaptation, and discussion of the options presently available to the PCI as it
seeks to end its political isolation.

The Evolution of Post-War Strategy and the Historic Compromise


For most of the post-war period the PCI's strategy has been characterized by
a series of recurring themes and principles.2 At the core of the party's
strategy has been an attempt to gain legitimacy as a party committed to
a fundamental transformation of the Italian political-economic system
through democratic processes. In synthesis, the strategy can be summarized
as follows. First, the 'Greek lesson' brought home to the PCI that its only
feasible route to power in Italy was through democratic processes, and
therefore the defence of the country's democratic institutions was accorded
paramount importance. Second, the party recognized that Italy's peculiar
historical development had spawned a complex and pluralistic economic and
social structure in which the working class was unlikely to constitute a social

* From the title of a book by G. Napolitano, In mezzo al guado (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1979).
THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE MID-1980S 195

majority and a politically unified formation. This led to a 'strategy of


alliances' - the search for a coalition of political and social forces and an
appeal to many different groups and strata, including progressive elements
among the Catholic masses, the southern peasantry and the traditional and
modern middle strata. This strategy owed much to the writings of Antonio
Gramsci and in particular to the important notion of communist presence
(presenza) in the basic social, political, economic and cultural institu-
tions of society. Third, the Fascist experience had embedded in the minds of
the leadership the imperative to avoid contributing to the re-emergence or
growth of a strong political movement of the right. While the PCI has not
always been consistent in its behaviour, and its strategy has been charac-
terized by tensions and ambiguities,' these considerations have for the most
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part provided the foundation of the party's long-term strategy, short-term


tactical choices and day-to-day policies.
This political line of accommodation and national unity reached its
clearest elaboration in the development of the strategy of the 'historic
compromise'.4 The specific proposals of the historic compromise were
spelled out in Enrico Berlinguer's 'Reflections on the Facts of Chile', pub-
lished in the party weekly Rinascita in the autumn of 1973.5 In those three
articles Berlinguer expounded a series of propositions on the lessons for
Italy to be drawn from the tragic events surrounding Allende's overthrow in
Chile. First, the articles reaffirmed the validity of the PCI's commitment to
the parliamentary road to socialist transformation as the only viable route to
power in the Italian context. Second, it was recognized that the existence of
the two military blocs, with Italy a member of NATO, set definite limits on
leftist parties' freedom of action: any unilateral attempt to leave the alliance
would be destabilizing and threaten the process of detente. Third, Berlinguer
argued that a simple 51 per cent majority would not be sufficient for the PCI
to come to power and be permitted to govern: the implementation of even a
moderate programme of structural reforms might provoke a reactionary
backlash from those sectors of society most adversely affected, and perhaps
threaten the democratic order itself. Hence, the enactment in Italy of any
policy of reforms and socio-economic changes, through democratic institu-
tions and processes, required as a preliminary condition the building of a
political majority based on broad social and political alliances. These social
and political alliances were not to be restricted only to the parties of the
left, but also were to extend to the parties of the centre and centre-right
of the political spectrum, including the Christian Democrats (DC). Thus
Berlinguer recognized that accession to power in Italy meant coming to
terms with at least the progressive elements of organized Catholicism. The
search for broad social alliances and political rapprochement with the
Christian Democrats was rendered more urgent by the backdrop of serious
economic, political and social crisis afflicting Italy at the time, and the
Communists' apprehensions about the possibility of a right-wing backlash
and reactionary solutions. This collaboration with other political forces, and
in particular the DC, would involve less ambitious immediate reform goals,
but in compensation it would provide the only possible framework that
196 THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES

could guarantee any reforms at all, so long as the country was embroiled in
deep and persistent crisis.
The basic elements of the crisis were threefold.6 Firstly, there was an
economic crisis provoked by a huge public sector deficit, the quadrupling
of energy prices, structural weaknesses in the economy and the crisis of
accumulation, which provoked international speculation about Italy's
impending bankruptcy. Second, there was a political crisis relating to
the strategic weakness of the DC as options for stable coalition formulae
appeared exhausted. Third, there was the growing problem of political
terror, initially from the right but later also from the left.
Against this background, the PCI laid increasing emphasis on the
Berlinguer line after 1973, seeking a political rapprochement with the DC,
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first at sub-national and then at national level. After their advances in the
administrative elections of 1975 and in the national elections of 1976, which
were widely and probably mistakenly interpreted by the party as an endorse-
ment of the party's strategy,7 the PCI sought to implement the historic
compromise. It gave its support to successive governments led by the DC
over a period of almost three years from June 1976 to spring 1979, first
through parliamentary abstention and later as a formal part of the parlia-
mentary majority, but without ever acquiring posts in the cabinet.
Collaboration with the Christian Democrats during the period of'national
solidarity' governments entailed considerable costs for the PCI." The first
setback was electoral: the rapid gains which the party had recorded in 1975
and 1976 brought about not only a quantitative change in the Communist
electorate but also a qualitative one. The party's most significant electoral
advances were made in areas such as the south where the party organization
had been traditionally weak, rather than in the 'red zones' where the party
had its most effective political and cultural organizations to cope with a large
inflow of new voters. Parisi and Pasquino have argued persuasively that the
PCI drew support from three types of elector in 1976:" the central core of
PCI support was made up of the 'vote of belonging', those electors who have
a stable identification with the PCI and the Communist sub-culture and who
consistently support the party. The new electoral support came from 'voters
of opinion* and 'voters of exchange', and these posed organizational
problems for the PCI since they were generally to be found outside the
party's usual channels of communication. Typically the opinion voters
(principally located in northern urban areas) draw their political infor-
mation from the mass media and are electorally mobile, switching their vote
on the basis of evaluations of party programmes. Their vote for the PCI was
based on a desire for change, so in the 1978 administrative elections and the
June 1979 legislative elections many of them deserted the party for having
pursued the historic compromise with few palpable reforms to show for it,
and for failing to offer an alternative to the DC. As regards the 'exchange
voters' (who were most prominent in the south), their motivation for voting
Communist probably derived from the expectation that the party was close
to entering government at national level and therefore would have access to
THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE MID-1980S 197

resources which could be distributed on a personal basis to these same


electors. However, the PCI
could not yield to their demands for resources and favours for two
important reasons: few resources were available in a time of eco-
nomic crisis (and most of them were firmly controlled by the national
government without Communist participation), and the Communist
organization was not geared to patronage politics (and could not
transform itself in that direction without producing tensions and
opposition within the party).1"
Thus, these new electors, the 'soft fringe' of the Communist vote, were
inherently mobile and the PCI could not, at least in the short term, secure
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from them solid and lasting support.


Second, the political difficulties encountered by the PCI as it supported
austerity measures, with few signs of reforms or political advances in return,
had repercussions on the internal life of the party. From 1977 party member-
ship began to decline, there was a general slump in rank-and-file activism,
and internal party dissent with regard to the PCI's strategic line became
apparent. Research on the attitudes of party militants and members under-
taken during the period of 'national solidarity' revealed the existence of four
different appraisals of the historic compromise strategy." (1) that held by
those who were favourable to the historic compromise and who shared the
official position of the leadership and thus regarded it as a long-term strategy
- but only 13 per cent took this view; (2) that of those in favour of the
historic compromise but who, encouraged by the PCI's initial electoral
successes, regarded it merely as a tactic to open the way for a government of
the left - a view shared by 59 per cent of the membership; (3) that of those
favourable to the historic compromise but who considered it to be a tactic for
the realization of a government of the PCI alone - a view shared by eight per
cent of the members; and lastly (4), there was the 20 per cent of the
membership who rejected the historic compromise both as a strategy and a
tactic, and who generally favoured a 'left alternative' government. Thus, the
official party line, whether interpreted as a strategy or a tactic, was widely
rejected by the militants and the members. Undoubtedly, there was wide-
spread disappointment at the failure of the historic compromise strategy to
produce tangible benefits, and the relegation of specific programmatic
reforms to a policy of austerity provoked trade union opposition.

The Return to Opposition


From about the middle of 1977 the costs of collaboration with the DC, most
evident in a significant deterioration in the PCI leadership's relations with its
membership, electorate and the trade unions, came 'first slowly and then
more rapidly, to outweigh the benefits'.'1 Relations between the PCI and the
DC worsened as the Communists" influence over government actions
declined, and they failed to achieve full legitimation as a party of govern-
198 THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES

ment. In the winter of 1978-79 the PCI withdrew from the arrangement
supporting the government, and demanded full cabinet participation. Pro-
tracted negotiations failed to satisfy the PCI's demands, and resulted in the
party's return to opposition in January 1979, the dissolution of parliament
(after the defeat of a minority government formed by Andreotti) and the
calling of national elections. The PCI's experience of the 'national solidarity'
period has been summarized well by Tarrow:
The party remained tangential to the cabinets; it was exploited for its
usefulness in reining in organized labour and for spreading amongst its
supporters moral revulsion against terrorism that helped the govern-
ment to adopt more serious police measures; but it was largely ignored
when it made even modest reform proposals."
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In the elections of June 1979 the PCI suffered a drop in its vote to 30.4 per
cent from the post-war high of 34.4 per cent in 1976. Although the party
retained some of the gains it had made in 1976, it suffered serious losses,
particularly among young voters, workers in the major industrial centres of
the north, and in the south. During the leftward tide of the mid-1970s the
party had picked up votes from all groups interested in a transformation of
the system.
This proved a mixed blessing: the PCI had to deal with a complex
society, in a phase of high expectations and low resources, without
achieving a formal government role. The paradox lies in the fact that it
was considered responsible for the [relative] failure of the period of
'national solidarity': that is, a non-governing party was penalized
electorally for its inability to influence the process of decision making
of a government controlled and staffed by another party."
Although the historic compromise experiment had failed to meet the
party's expectations, the PCI leadership continued to advocate this strategic
line throughout 1979 and most of 1980. Despite the hostility of the party base
to any further collaboration with the Christian Democrats, the leadership
could not jettison immediately a strategic line which had guided the party's
political actions since the early 1970s. However, after an agonizing re-
appraisal at a special meeting of the PCI Directorate in November 1980, an
abrupt change of political line was announced.15 The timing of the change
followed the revelation of a series of scandals involving Christian Demo-
crats, and the appalling inefficiency of the state apparatus in dealing with the
earthquake disaster in the south. The PCI formally abandoned the pursuit of
an alliance with the DC. replacing it with the strategy of the 'democratic
alternative'; that is, a government of lay parties without the participation of
the Christian Democrats, not necessarily led by the PCI itself but with its full
participation as an equal partner. This new strategy, known as the svolta di
Salerno ('Salerno shift') implied a new attitude not only toward the DC but
also toward other parties, primarily the Socialists and Republicans, since the
success of the democratic alternative depended crucially on the willingness
of these political groups to collaborate with the PCI.
THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE MID-1980S 199

Relations with the Socialists and the Democratic Alternative


Crucial to an understanding of the PCI's present political isolation at
national level is its relationship with the Socialist Party (PSI). The strategy of
the two parties of the left has never been so far apart as it has been recently.
While the Communists were pursuing the historic compromise strategy
during the 1970s, the Socialists were advocating the formation of an alter-
native left-wing government excluding the DC.'6 The Socialists launched
attacks against the PCI from both the right and the left: from the right they
questioned the Communists' democratic legitimacy, and from the left they
attacked the PCI's stances on economic policy and public order as too
moderate. Since the Communists switched their political line to the need for
a democratic alternative, the Socialists, under the leadership of Bettino
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Craxi, have collaborated in government with the DC and the centre parties,
and since August 1983 have held the prime ministership of the pentapartito
(five-party) coalition."-
Since Craxi's election in 1976 to the post of Socialist Party Secretary (used
subsequently to dominate the party), his strategy has been clear.'" First, to
advocate an indispensable and central role for the PSI in ensuring the
governability of the country, and to prevent exclusive Communist-Christian
Democrat collaboration which would threaten the political relevance of the
Socialists. Second, to create a new, third 'pole' around the centre 'lay'
parties to replace the DC as the pivotal party in government coalitions.
Third, to distance itself from the PCI and challenge the Communists'
credentials as a viable and legitimate partner of government. The Socialists
have often launched virulent attacks on the PCI, claiming that its ties with
the Soviet Union were still too close, that party doctrine and ideology were
still imbued with Leninism and thus outdated, and that the PCI's internal
organization, based on democratic centralism, was not sufficiently demo-
cratic. In the long run the PSI hoped to emulate Mitterrand's Socialist Party
by isolating the Communists and attracting disgruntled PCI voters to its own
ranks, thereby bringing about a rebalancing of the forces of the left. Only
when the relative strengths of the left-wing parties had shifted in favour of
the Socialists would the 'democratic alternative' be possible. However, so
far this has not occurred and Socialist inroads into the Communist electorate
appear unlikely given the subcultural nature of much of the Communist vote
and the PCI's formidable organizational apparatus. As LaPalombara has
observed, 'the doubters insist that the Mitterrand analogy won't fly because,
simply put, Italy's PCI is not the French Communist Party".'" The Socialists
have adopted the posture of a modern, pragmatic, reformist party in an
attempt to win votes from emerging social strata and the growing pool of
'opinion' voters. This strategy, however, is based on the assumption that the
opinion voters 'are both many and available and that their preferences are
most closely reflected by the PSIV" To date the results of this electoral
appeal have been meagre: although the PSI has made some important gains
in local elections (for example, Bari and Foggia in 1981). at national elec-
tions in June 1983 the party's vote increased by a disappointing 1.6 per cent.
200 THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES

and then fell by 0.2 per cent to 11.2 per cent in the 1984 elections to the
European Parliament.21
These challenges and attacks on the PCI have been accompanied by
Socialist manoeuvres to undermine Communist power in sub-national
governments; the Socialists have abandoned participation with the PCI in
some left alliances at local level and switched to DC or lay coalitions (as, for
example, in Florence, Turin and Naples). The Christian Democrat leader
Ciriaco de Mita has urged the Socialists to abandon left alliances throughout
the country in order to forge a durable collaboration between the DC and
PSI at national level. Certainly, this Socialist strategy of open antagonism
towards the PCI has contained its own contradictions:
The Socialists could hardly expect the PCI not to react, at the national
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and local levels, or to assume a favourable attitude towards their


proclaimed isolation. In both respects the Socialist position was
weakened. They could not turn to the Communists and their potential
support while at the same time dealing with the Christian Democrats.
Thus, having acquired their political and strategic autonomy, the
Socialists found themselves with only one viable option: to pursue a
governing coalition with the DC.22
The response of the PCI leadership generally has been one of hardline
counter-attacks on the Socialists, and upon Craxi in person, rendering any
political rapprochement between the two parties very difficult. However,
there are those within the PCI (principally Giorgio Napolitano and
moderate trade unionists around Luciano Lama) who favour a more con-
ciliatory approach based on continuing dialogue with the PSI in an attempt
to lure it away from its alignment with the DC.~' For the PCI, the goal of a
democratic alternative government remains unattainable so long as the PSI
leaders continue to prefer a strategy of co-operation with the DC.

Communist Change and Adaptation


Since its return to opposition in 1979 the PCI has continued to adapt in its
attempt to obtain full legitimation as a party of government. The change in
PCI strategy was followed in January 1981 by major organizational reforms
designed to alter the model of democratic centralism, to make it and the
membership more effective. The changes involved the sanctioning of'secret
votes, the formation of majorities and minorities, the recording of dissenting
views, [and] a slackening of control by the leaders over activities at lower
levels'.'4 The changes were an acknowledgement of the failures of internal
party channels of communication during the period of the 'national soli-
darity' governments, when the 'centralist' aspects of democratic centralism
prevailed over the democratic characteristics.25 The historic compromise
strategy had been unsuccessful not only because the Christian Democrats
had failed to keep their part of the bargain, but also because the majority of
Communist activists were not committed to a political line which had been
formulated without their consultation. The dilemma for the PCI has been
THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE MID-1980S 201

how to strike a balance between open party debate and the preservation of
political unity:
the problem of giving more genuine and solid bases to the unity of a
party which relies so much on the concrete and combative contribution
of its militants. The balance between freedom of debate and solidarity
in action, between participation of the base in the formation of the
political line and the exercise of the proper role of the national leader-
ship organs,... clear affirmation of a majority line without resulting in
a crystallization into currents, [and] opposing factions.21'
The PCI's overhaul of the party structure may be seen as a response to
challenges facing the mass party in a modern, complex society like Italy.
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These include the expansion (as political sub-cultures decline) of a volatile


electorate of 'opinion', which is more exposed to political cues emanating
from the mass means of communication; the diversification of the con-
temporary social structure, creating new 'social subjects' with a variety of
needs and political demands; and the growing demand for participation in
decision-making processes.27 Given this changing environment, it was
deemed necessary to create a more flexible and diversified internal party
structure 'in order to shape new ties with a changing society and a changing
universe of Communist voters, in the north and in the south, and in order to
allow a more meaningful involvement by Communist members'.-" The PCI
has striven consistently to broaden its membership so as to embrace socially
diverse groups. This strategy of constructing broad social and political
alliances, and the desire to develop a presence in all areas of social and
political life and amongst all social strata, are based on the view that the mass
party organization is indispensable in the implementation of a project of
social and economic transformation, and essential in mobilizing the elec-
torate and preserving the stability of party support. However, this widening
of membership raises questions about the political reliability of recruits, and
poses the problem of dissidence at the base.
In the sphere of foreign affairs and international relationships there have
also been important changes in the evolution of the PCI's position in recent
years. Over the course of a number of years the PCI has increasingly
distanced itself from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and
other Eastern bloc communist parties, proclaiming its right to full autonomy
and independence. In the latter part of the 1970s, relations between the PCI
and CPSU became increasingly strained as the Italian party took 'dissident'
stands on a number of issues. The PCI leadership expressed critical views on
the failings of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe and voiced support
for dissident movements against those regimes; it sought to normalize rela-
tions with the Chinese Communist Party: it strongly condemned the Soviet
intervention in Afghanistan and the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea;
and it called for the dismantling of Soviet SS-20 missiles in order to restore a
nuclear balance in Europe and thus halt the deployment of NATO euro-
missiles. But it was the declaration of martial law in Poland in mid-
December 1981 which provoked the most serious deterioration in relations
202 THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES

between the two parties. The PCI secretariat condemned interference by the
USSR and other Warsaw Pact countries in the Polish crisis, asserting that the
military intervention had constituted a blow to democracy and socialism.
According to the PCI's analysis, Solidarity was not a reactionary movement
hostile to socialism; rather it was committed to democracy in political life
and to the defence of workers' interests, and was against positions of
privilege and corruption within the Communist Party. However, the central
thrust in the PCI's analysis was that 'the phase in the development of
socialism which began with the October Revolution has lost its driving
force'.:v Two weeks later, in the middle of January 1982, the PCI central
committee met and overwhelmingly endorsed the leadership's position on
the Polish crisis. 'In Europe, as well as in Italy, these events were seen as a
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profound redefinition of the PCI's relationship with the USSR, as well as


cementing still further that party's image as an autonomous democratic
organization'.1" Inside the PCI, however, there was dissent over the party's
political attitude towards the Soviet Union and this soon broke out into open
debate with Armando Cossutta articulating the pro-Soviet line."
The PCI has sought to develop a new set of international relationships,
replacing the Soviet-inspired concept of 'proletarian internationalism' with
the so-called 'new internationalism'. The aim is to get away from the 'logic of
the blocs', to forge links with non-aligned nations and to achieve a more
independent role for Western Europe between the superpowers. The PCI
also has attempted to promote the idea of a new 'European left' bringing
together socialist, social democratic and Eurocommunist parties. The party
acknowledges that the growing interdependence of the world economy and
the power of multinational corporations render simple national solutions
obsolete, and make it necessary for there to be co-ordination of policies and
co-operation amongst left forces." Since the early 1970s the PCI has pursued
a close dialogue with the West German Social Democrats (SPD) and the two
parties share the view that 'a lasting economic development and the solution
to dramatic problems such as unemployment are not possible without an
effort to achieve concertation at the European level, and without a relaunch-
ing of the European Community'." The policies of the SPD and PCI have
converged also with regard to a commitment to detente, disarmament and
European unity. In the words of Giorgio Napolitano, 'the European left
needs two things: greater unity and new ideas. The PCI feels both these
needs as its own and wants to help satisfy the one and the other.'34 According
to the PCI the task confronting the whole European left is to develop a 'third
way' (terza via) strategy for the transition to socialism: a strategy which
would differ from the Soviet model of socialism (which is 'exhausted' and
unacceptable because of the negation of liberty and democratic freedoms),
and from social democracy which has been unable to go beyond redistribu-
tive, welfare state socialism. 'We mean to underline the necessity of going
beyond the historically outdated and indisputably negative aspects of both
the social democratic tradition and the communist tradition; the need to
concentrate energies on the search for new answers to new problems."5
This process of ideological renewal, the "third way' strategy, would bring
THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE MID-1980S 203

together socialism and freedom, and central to it would be structural


reforms:
It appears clear now that the forces of the left - those in government or
in opposition - can no longer count, as they could until the first half of
the 1970s, on an economic growth which allowed consistent margins
for social reforms and for income redistribution without having to
confront questions of a 'structural' character. This has become indis-
pensable for solutions to the crucial issues of the relaunching of the
process of accumulation, the direction of investment, the renewal of
the productive structure, the introduction of new technology, techno-
logical unemployment and the relocation of the workforce.16
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Wider nationalization of the means of production and 'imperative planning'


would be avoided, and market mechanisms would continue to be important,
although it is 'necessary that the market should be oriented (not stifled) by a
political lead towards ends of a general interest'.37 The "third way' remains
rather nebulous, although the so-called laboristi such as Napolitano and
Lama have attempted to give it some content through their exchanges with
the SPD.

Conclusion
The PCI in the mid-1980s finds itself further from participation in national
government than it was at the beginning of the 1970s, and although the party
continues to share governmental responsibility in many regions, large cities
and municipalities, its strength even in this realm is threatened by Socialist
withdrawal from left alliances at local level.
The PCI's current political isolation is paradoxical given the evolution of
the party's strategy and the advances it has made since the early 1970s: the
PCI is perceived as a more legitimate governing party as a result of the
national solidarity experience and its changed international positions."1
Since its return to opposition in 1979 the PCI has retained its posture as a
partito di lotta e di governo ('party of struggle and government'), rejecting
the temptation to resort to sectarianism and 'isolationism' (although its
opponents have accused the party of 'excessive opposition').'" In the elec-
toral arena the party has a seemingly solid bed-rock of support of about one-
third of the Italian electorate (more than at the beginning of the 1970s
despite losses in 1979 and 1983). In the elections of June 1984 to the
European Parliament it polled 33.3 per cent of the vote (more than the DC
with 33 per cent), and for the first time in its history became the party of
'relative majority'.*' With regard to its internal structure the PCI 'is more
flexible, more open, more "participatory"", and more democratic than at any
time in its history'.41 Yet, the so-called 'Communist question', that is, how to
accommodate the PCI and its third of the electorate into the political system,
remains unresolved.
The party claims that its large following and strength in the trade union
movement give it an indispensable role to play in the government of Italy:
204 THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES

'In the elections of 1983 and 1984 the PCI confirmed its position as a party
which can rely on 30 per cent of the vote and go further: and therefore a force
which cannot easily be left on the sidelines and without which, indeed, it is
impossible to give a valid response to the problems of the Italian crisis'.4-1
This echoes Berlinguer's analysis of the 1970s, which asserted the impossi-
bility of governing Italy without the PCI or against the PCI. However, in the
1980s the PCI is confronted by a new political and economic context. As we
have seen, during the 'national solidarity' governments the PCI and their
trade union allies ensured that 'austerity' measures were carried through,
labour costs controlled and productivity improved to restore the economy to
health. However, the Craxi government has sought to obtain sacrifices from
workers without Communist 'consent'. The decision to cut the scala mobile
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(the system of automatic wage indexation) in February 1984, after negotia-


tions with the three trade union confederations had broken down,
was not the autonomous decision of a decisive government, but part of
a bargain struck between the Socialist Labour Minister and the leaders
of the Catholic (CISL) and Social Democrat (UIL) [labour confedera-
tions] at the expense of the Communist CGIL. The objective of the
CISL and UIL leaders is clear: to become the privileged interlocutors
of the government in a neo-corporatist system of industrial relations,
and so increase their unions' influence and membership If Craxi's
manoeuvre had succeeded, he would not only have demonstrated the
PCI's impotence to defend its own, but he would also have instituted a
procedure for representing workers' interests which would have cut
out the PCI and its organizations.41
The immediate result of this episode has been the break-up of the federation
of the three trade union organizations (CGIL, CISL and UIL) which had
operated since 1972. The unions' difficulties and declining influence (com-
pounded by a loss of members)" reflect stronger resolve on the part of recent
governments and employers in the face of continuing economic crisis. The
PCI's claim that Italy is 'ungovernable' without its participation (for only
it could persuade the unions to moderate their wage demands) will be
undermined if the Craxi government's economic strategy proves successful
without PCI acquiescence.
There is no obvious solution to the PCI's current political impasse and its
position 'in the middle of the ford'. The prospects for the 'democratic
alternative' are not very promising: the problem of the correct tactics to
adopt in order to move towards the 'alternative' remains unresolved, with
the apparent party unity disguising different analyses of the present situation
and different conclusions.45 The relationship with the PSI has still to be
clarified if the left is to govern in Italy, and while the Socialists insist on a
rebalancing offerees on the left as a preliminary condition, the likelihood of
bringing about the 'alternative' is remote.4"
A second possible scenario is a return to the 'grand coalition' of the DC
and the PCI, once again undermining the pivotal role of the Socialists. The
Christian Democrats have made it clear that they want possession of the
THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE MID-1980S 205

office of Prime Minister again. However, PCI collaboration with the DC


would likely be unpopular with the party base, and of late Natta has dis-
missed the suggestion and portrayed the DC as a party incapable of reform.47
Most recently, the PCI has proposed a 'government of programme',
abandoning the idea of an alignment with any 'privileged partner'. On the
basis of a programme including an incomes policy, employment policy and
the curtailment of wasteful public expenditure, the PCI hopes to appeal to
'those forces which express in the most perceptible way the same interest as
us in a policy of rigour to bring about development and transformation'.4"
The aim of the PCI is to create an alternative parliamentary majority
committed to the implementation of a specific programme, and thereby
effect the 'alternation [in government] essential for a healthy democracy'.49
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However, there is as yet no sign of any political group responding positively


to the PCI's initiative.
What emerges clearly from a rehearsal of these possibilities, is the extent
to which the PCI is dependent on the strategies of the DC and PSI (and their
internal political balance) to end its political isolation. By Italian standards,
the present pentapartito coalition has survived for a remarkably long time,
despite repeated controversy and conflicts amongst the coalition parties.
How much longer the coalition can hold together is a matter of conjecture,
but while it lasts the PCI is condemned to political exclusion. Perhaps the
only consolation for the PCI is that it might be in a position to reap the
benefits of opposition at the next election.5"

NOTES

Philip Daniels is Lecturer in Politics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.


1. For an excellent overview of the party in the 1970s, see G. Pasquino, 'Il PCI nel sistema
politico italiano degli anni settanta', Il Mulino, No. 284, (Nov.-Dec. 1982). pp. 859-97.
2. See D. L. M. Blackmer, 'Continuity and Change in Post-war Italian Communism', in
D. L. M Blackmer and S. Tarrow (eds.), Communism in Italy and France (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1975).
3. The basic strategic themes and their ambiguities are well rehearsed in P. Lange, "Crisis and
Consent, Change and Compromise; Dilemmas of Italian Communism in the 1970s", in P.
Lange and S. Tarrow (eds.), Italy in Transition (London: Frank Cass, 1980). pp. 110-32.
4. There is an enormous literature on the 'historic compromise' from a variety of perspectives.
See Lange, ibid.; S. Tarrow, 'Historic Compromise or Bourgeois Majority? Euro-
communism in Italy 1976-9', in H. Machin (ed.), National Communism in Western Europe:
a Third Way to Socialism? (London: Methuen, 1983); and the issue of Laboratorio Politico,
No. 11 (1982), devoted to the historic compromise.
5. E. Berlinguer, 'Riflessioni sull' Italia dopo i fatti del Cile', Rinascit. 28 Sept. 5 Oct. and 12
Oct. 1973.
6. See Lange, pp. 122-3.
7. See Tarrow, 'Historic Compromise', p. 127.
8. Ibid., pp. 134-9; and Lange. pp. 110-32.
9. A. Parisi and G. Pasquino, '20 giugno: struttura politica e comportamento clettorale'. in A.
Parisi and G. Pasquino (eds.), Continuit e mamento elettorale in Italia. Le elezioni del 20
giugno 1976 e il sistema politico italiano (Bologna: 11 Mulino. 1977). pp. 21-34. Also see
Parisi and Pasquino. 'Changes in Italian Electoral Behaviour: The Relationships between
206 THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES

Parties and Voters", in Lange and Tarrow (eds.), Italy in Transition, pp.6-30.
10. Pasquino, 'Sources of Stability and Instability in the Italian Party System', West European
Politics, Vol. 6 (1983). pp.93-110, (p. 101).
11. M. Barbagli and P. Corbetta, 'Una tattica e due strategie: Inchiesta sulla base del Pci', Il
Mulino, Vol. 27 (1978), pp.922-67. Also see L'Espresso, 14 Dec. 1980, pp.8-9.
12. Lange. p. 125.
13. Tarrow, 'Historic Compromise', p. 136.
14. Pasquino, 'Sources of Stability', p. 102.
15. L'Unit, 28 Nov. 1980. Also see M. Barbagli and P. Corbetta, 'After the Historic Com-
promise: A Turning Point for the PCI', European Journal of Political Research, No. 10
(1982), pp.213-39.
16. See G. Sani, 'Amici-Nemici; Parenti-Serpenti: Communists and Socialists in Italy", in
B.E. Brown (ed.), Eurocommunism and Eurosocialism: The Left Confronts Modernity
(New York: Cyrco Press. 1979), pp. 105-42.
17. For an account of the first months of Craxi's premiership, see P. Allum, 'The Craxi
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Government: Turning Point or Dead End?', Political Quarterly, Vol. 55 (1984), pp. 314
20. Also see V. Giuzzi, 'Craxi's Italy', Government and Opposition, Vol. 20 (1985),
pp. 166-77.
18. See Pasquino, 'La strategia del Psi: tra vecchie e nuove forme di rappresentanza politica',
Critica Marxista, Vol. 21 (1983), pp.29-50; and J. LaPalombara, 'Socialist Alternatives:
The Italian Variant', Foreign Affairs (Spring 1982), pp. 924-42. Also see the collection of
articles on the Italian Socialist Party in Il Mulino, No. 281 (1982).
19. LaPalombara, p. 927. On differences between the organizations of the French and Italian
Communist Parties, see P. Lange, 'The French and Italian Communist Parties: Postwar
Strategy and Domestic Society', in S. Bialer and S. Sluzar (eds.), Radicalism in the
Contemporary Age, Vol. 3 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1977), pp. 186-95.
20. Pasquino', 'Sources of Stability', p. 105.
21. G. Mazzoleni, 'Italy', Electoral Studies, Vol. 3 (1984), pp.294-8.
22. Pasquino, 'Sources of Stability', p. 106.
23. See Panorama, 2 April 1984, pp.44-7.
24. Pasquino, 'Sources of Stability', p. 102. Also see G. Amato and L. Cafagna, Duello a
sinislra (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1982), pp.206ff.
25. Pasquino, 'Il PCI nel sistema politico italiano degli anni settanta', p.888.
26. G. Napolitano, 'Il PCI secondo il PCI', in S. Belligni (ed.), Lagiraffa e illiocorno (Milan:
Franco Angeli, 1983), pp. 17-28 (p.25).
27. There is a growing literature in Italy on the 'crisis of the mass party'. See, for example,
Pasquino, 'Mass media, Partito di massa e trasformazioni della politica', Il Mulino, Vol. 22
(1983), pp. 559-79. Also see Democrazia e diritto, Vol. 23 (1983), for a collection of articles
on the PCI and its organization.
28. Pasquino. 'Sources of Stability', p. 102.
29. L'Unit, 30 Dec. 1981. See ibid., 25 Jan. 1982, for a translation of Pravda's attack on the
PCI, and the PCI's reply in ibid., 26 Jan. 1982.
30. LaPalombara, p. 937.
31. See Cossutta's article in L'Unit, 6 Jan. 1982.
32. See the interview with PCI general secretary Natta in Il Manifesto, 22 Feb. 1985. Also see
G. Napolitano, 'Senza timidezze per nuove prospettive di progresso e di unit' , Rinascit, 9
Feb. 1985, pp.41-2; and idem, 'Governare un arduo periodo di transizione', Critica
Marxista, Vol. 21 (1983). pp.61-72.
33. Napolitano, 'Senza timidezze'. pp.41-2.
34. Ibid., pp.41-2. On the convergence between the SPD and the PCI, see the interview with
Luciano Lama. L'Espresso, 16 Dec. 1984; and Heinz Timmermann, L'Espresso, 23 Dec.
1984. Also see Panorama, 24 Feb. 1985, on the suggestion of a 'social democratic line'
within the PCI (pp. 46-8).
35. Napolitano. 'Senza timidezze'.
36. Ibid., p.42.
37. Interview with Natta. La Repubblica, 29 Sept. 1984.
38. On the PCI's growing legitimacy, see the evidence presented in G. Guidorossi. Gli lialianie
THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE MID-1980S 207

la Politica (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1984), pp. 117-27.


39. See F. De Vito and P. Mieli, 'Che diavolo di partito'. L'Espresso. 20 Jan. 1985.
40. Mazzoleni, 'Italy': the Communist gains came principally from those areas hit hardest by
recession and unemployment.
41. Pasquino, 'Sources of Stability'.
42. Natta, 'La svolta che occorre al nostro paese'. Rinascit, 29 Dec. 1984.
43. Allum, p. 318.
44. See L'Espresso, 4 March 1984, pp. 136-41, 'Anatomia di una crisi'.
45. See P. Franchi, 'In fila per sei', Panorama, 24 Feb. 1985, pp.46-8; and R. Mieli, 'Natta,
timoniere senza bussola', Corriere della Sera. 22 Jan. 1985, p. 3.
46. See the interview with Natta in L'Espresso, 28 April 1985, pp.6-12, 'Il Mio PCI'.
47. Ibid., and Natta interview in La Repubblica, 29 Sept. 1984.
48. Natta, 'La svolta che occorre al nostro paese'.
49. Natta interview, La Repubblica, 29 Sept. 1984.
50. See L. Colletti, 'La delusione Craxi', L'Espresso, 23 Sept. 1984, pp. 16-17.
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